Cruise lines may overbook more sailings as demand heats up — here's what happens when your trip is oversold

aerial of the Quantum of the Seas
While a rare occurrence, more cruises could be oversold in 2024 as demand for vacations at sea remains hot.Royal Caribbean International
  • Royal Caribbean has overbooked a handful of its 2023 cruises.

  • On Tuesday, several would-be Quantum of the Seas guests were left behind when the ship ran out of cabins.

  • While a rare occurrence, the growing demand for cruises may lead to more oversold itineraries in the future.

A serious issue for travelers could be quietly brewing amid the booming demand for cruises: oversold ships.

Like hotels and airlines, cruise lines may overbook itineraries in anticipation of last-minute cancellations. Compared to other industries, oversold cruises are as rare as winning the lottery, Patrick Scholes, an analyst at Truist Securities, told Business Insider.

But when it happens, the fallout could be more severe. Because cruises are almost always a multi-day affair, travelers facing an involuntary reservation cancellation could be left to figure out a logistical nightmare of refunds, new flights, accommodations, and replacement vacation days.

"It's a problem cruise lines could have only dreamed about two or three years ago," Scholes said.

The Wonder of the Seas cruise ship at a port.
Royal Caribbean oversold at least two Wonder of the Seas itineraries in 2023.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Before the COVID-19-induced cruise industry pause, incidents of overbooked vessels were sparse.

But throughout 2023, demand for vacations at sea has quickly picked up and surpassed 2019 levels. With this has come an influx of last-minute bookings that may be catching cruise operators off guard, leading to oversold cruises, Scholes said.

This might include Royal Caribbean Group, which has overbooked a handful of its 2023 itineraries. Earlier in the year, the 7,084-guest Wonder of the Seas was twice over-reserved. On Tuesday, an oversold Quantum of the Seas ship left several travelers stranded at the embarkation port in Brisbane, Australia.

Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas.Royal Caribbean

Looking ahead, bookings for 2024 itineraries are already heating up with more cruises expected to sell out. While hard to predict, Scholes said he "wouldn't be surprised" if there were a handful of oversold cruise incidents next year as well.

But if your vacation at sea is coming up, there's no need to fret. Statistically, it's still unlikely: Only a handful of the millions of annual cruise travelers have ever been impacted by this.

In prior incidents, the cruise giant notified impacted travelers before the sail date

aerial view of Quantum of the Seas
The Quantum of the Seas can accommodate 4,905 guests.Royal Caribbean International

But with the Royal Caribbean incident on Tuesday, the worst-case scenario happened: Groups of would-be cruisers arrived at the Port of Brisbane, bags packed and ready for their eight-night Quantum of the Seas vacation, to the news that there were no cabins left.

two royal caribbean cruise ships at cococay
Cruise lines have offered travelers impacted by overbooking options like an alternative itinerary.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Demand for the itinerary "went beyond the rooms that were available," a spokesperson for the cruise line told Business Insider.

In a letter given to these impacted travelers, Royal Caribbean offered alternatives such as the ship's nine-night cruise in late January 2024, another seven or eight-night sailing "with price protection," or a full refund with 25% future cruise credit.

"While disruptions to plans can occasionally happen, we do our best to minimize those chances," the spokesperson said, referring to its guests' vacation plans. "We take these disruptions seriously, and we apologize for the inconvenience this has caused. We have worked with each guest that was affected to rectify the inconvenience this has caused."

Book an individual stateroom to better your chances of boarding

My balcony stateroom aboard Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas
Raynor said the November 28 Quantum of the Seas sailing would have been his first cruise.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Reserving a "GYT" — or guaranteed — cabin leaves the specific stateroom assignment up to the cruise line. While hard to know for sure, Scholes says these bookings may be a common thread among travelers who have had their reservations aboard oversold ships canceled.

Read the original article on Business Insider